Dominic Meigh, Head Steward at New Dawn and oblate of Quarr Abbey, explores the elevance of the Rule of St Benedict to Charismatic groups and communities.
1 - The Primacy of Prayer
Nothing shall be preferred to the work of God. (Rule of St. Benedict 43:3)
Prayer is time for communion with God, thus it is the most important activity of any community. Without Jesus we can bear no fruit (cf. John15:4), and where praise, worship and love are at the centre of the community, it flourishes; where they wane, it suffers. St. Benedict calls the monk to, lay aside everything he is doing, and hasten with all speed, and yet seriously to prayer. Unfortunately, prayer can often be delayed by or squeezed between other activities, such as socialising or setting up. This reveals a lack of discipline. Appropriate planning is needed to ensure that the Lord is worthily praised. The group needs to agree a workable timetable, and stick to it.
2 - Formation
Holiness is fitting for your house. (Ps 93:5).
We are called to be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy (Matt 5:48), and St. Benedict reminds us that this call is at the centre of the Christian life. For him, the aim of teaching is formation continuous turning to God, the correction of faults, growth in holiness and intimacy with God, not just for knowledge or interest. This reflects St. Paul, all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete (2Tim 5:16). Such formation can only be accomplished through the power of God, and St. Benedict urges us to, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it (Prologue).
Nothing shows our shortcomings more clearly than living in community, yet too few talks concentrate practically on how to become holy, to which the Rule dedicates several chapters (e.g. Ch 4 Instruments of Good Works, and Ch 7 Humility). In the Rule, the source of instruction was the Scriptures and the Fathers. Today we could add the masters of the spiritual life. But too few talks truly explore the depths of these sources. For St Benedict, Lectio Divina - the slow, meditative reading of Scripture - was the source of growth. As St Jerome said, Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. The saints have shown the way to holiness and left us the fruit of their experience. We ignore them at our cost.
3 - Welcoming
Guests shall be received as Christ. (RSB 53:1).
Where there is powerful praise, teaching and ministry, new people will be attracted, and the love of Christ in the warmth of fellowship can be an invaluable support for them in their spiritual journey. St. Benedict reminds us that Christ, on the Last Day, will say, I was a stranger and you took me in (Matt 25:35), so visitors must be welcomed in the Lords name. Yet the groups great strength of fellowship can also be a weakness. Somehow it is always more important to discuss something with friends than to welcome or invite new people, leaving them feeling excluded. For example, do we always welcome strangers at coffee after Mass? Ignoring strangers is not only bad manners, but an affront to Christ who identifies himself with them. St. Benedict instructs that, great care should be taken with the poor and pilgrims, since in them Christ is especially received (RSB 53:15). It was the warm welcome I received at Quarr Abbey and other monasteries that began my journey to becoming an oblate. Yet not all visitors make suitable members, so it must be discerned, whether he is eager for the Work of God, for humility and obedience (RSB 58:1). It is also important that newcomers clearly understand the spirituality of the group (Catholic / ecumenical, charismatic / contemplative ). This makes discernment easier, and is fairer on the newcomer.
4 - Leadership
[The Abbot] must adapt to circumstances, mingling gentleness with sternness, alternating the strictness of a master with the loving affection shown by a father he will exhort the patient to virtue and rebuke and correct the negligent and arrogant. (RSB 2:23-25)
5 - Murmuring
Nothing undermines a group more than individuals subversively spreading disharmony or grumbling, what St Benedict calls murmuring. Community depends on all its members co-operating in supporting and building each other up.
6 - Resolution of Problems
No group is perfect. Things go wrong, misunderstandings occur, mistakes are made. Dealing with these problems can make or break the group. Ignoring or mishandling them can lead to frustration, resentment and division. Sadly, many allow their problems to fester rather than, walking in the light (cf. 1Jn 1:7). Good channels of communication are therefore vital for the health of the group. Leaders need to act promptly and sensitively when arguments arise. Jesus sets out in Matt 18:15-17 the steps for reconciliation. First the protagonists are to try to sort things out themselves. Failing that, one or two witnesses are called to give support. Finally the matter is referred to the group where expulsion is the ultimate sanction. Resolution and reconciliation can bring healing, growth and maturity. Scripture requires this by sundown (cf. Eph 4:26) and before coming to the altar (Matt 5: 23-24).
7 - Service
The brothers are to serve one another (RSB 60:3).
It is inspiring, in stewarding, to see so many people cheerfully volunteering service at New Dawn. Unfortunately there does not seem to be an expectation that everyone should serve, so all too often the burden falls on the willing few. For St Benedict this is as unacceptable as it is absurd: no one is excused from kitchen duties unless he is ill. Thats more like it! Those who will not wash the feet of the brethren are not worthy of them (cf. Jn 13:15). The Lord has given talents to each for the Body; therefore the community will suffer if all do not play their full part. We need a new culture of service where we discern and encourage all to share their talents for the good of the community.
The Church has 2000 years of experience of Christian community living. We need to learn the lessons of the past and discern what is still relevant. Then, with the help of Christ and this little rule for beginners (RSB 73:8) and, with our hearts open wide, we can, with St. Benedict, run with unspeakable sweetness of love on the path of Gods commandments. (Prologue).